If your teen’s birthday is coming up, they’re probably feeling a mixture of emotions right now. They’re excited for their birthday, but they may already feel let down about the party. Or by the fact it’s not happening – at least not the way they wanted it to. COVID-19 social distancing requirements don’t really allow for the party your teen might have wanted, and may have already planned.
So how do you celebrate a teen birthday during coronavirus?
First, understand that your teen may be disappointed, no matter what happens. The first step is to check for, and validate, these feelings.
According to Lisa Faguet, LCSW, Program Director of Evolve Residential Treatment Center in Agoura Hills, CA, parents often unintentionally invalidate their children’s feelings by minimizing or downplaying their losses. This kind of dismissive attitude can hurt a child.
Instead of dismissing their emotions, Faguet suggests a simple empathetic statement like “I hear you. I know this is really disappointing. You were really looking forward to celebrating a birthday in XYZ way, and now it’s not happening.”
Then, check to see if your teen is willing to consider alternative ways of celebrating their birthday. Would they be interested in a Zoom party with family or friends? Are they excited about a certain gift? Or, can you think of some way to surprise them with something special to mark the occasion? Realize that anything you do is better than nothing. Don’t give up on the birthday or party altogether because you can’t celebrate it the way it was originally planned.
So, without further ado, here are seven ways to celebrate a birthday during coronavirus:
- Bake a cake. Or order one, if there’s a bakery that’s open near you. If you feel generous, bake some extra mini-cakes or cupcakes and deliver them to relatives that live nearby. Of course, make sure to maintain the proper social distancing requirements. Then, the day of your teen’s birthday, your teen and their relatives can eat the same cake together over Zoom! See #6 below for more on Zoom birthdays.
- Balloons! Wake up early on their birthday and surprise them by blowing up a bunch of balloons and leaving them outside their bedroom door or in a surprise area of your house. Many large supermarkets carry balloons, so you probably won’t have to go searching for a special party store that’s open.
- Cook their favorite meal. Or treat them by ordering their favorite dish at a restaurant they love that offers delivery or pick-up.
- The Drive-by party. Call up their friends, or friends’ parents, and arrange a time for everyone to walk or drive by your home with balloons, music, and posters. One idea is to have each member (or group of members) hold up each letter of “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” – it’ll be a walking, talking, and singing human birthday card!
- Make a photo album. This will take some advance planning, but their reaction will probably be worth it. Ask their good friends and relatives to send you pictures, quotes, and memories from the past year. Do it discreetly so it stays a surprise. Then use any of the many available online services to create a memorable scrapbook you can present your teen on their birthday.
- Organize a Zoom party. Zoom is gaining widespread attention in the media not just as the platform for distance learning, but also the go-to app for teen hangouts and virtual parties. Ask your teen invite friends to their Zoom birthday party, or do it yourself as a surprise if you think your teen would appreciate it. Make it even more fun by bringing out a cake for your teen in the middle of the party. Everyone can join in for a virtual rendition of “Happy Birthday.” To provide some structure, consider a group activity during the party, such as asking everyone to provide a funny or happy pre-COVID memory of your teen.
- Throw an art party. If your teen is into art, having a virtual paint night is a unique and fun way to celebrate their birthday while letting their friends join along. E-vite a few of your teen’s friends to join the party over Zoom, and send along – a week or a few days before the party – a DIY Paint Night Kit to each of them. Then, when it’s time to get the party started, they can all paint together.
When Disappointment Does Not Fade
Of course, a virtual birthday party is never the same as an actual, live celebration. Inevitably, a teen might be disappointed that their big bash didn’t happen—especially if it was a milestone event like a bar Mitzvah, Sweet Sixteen, or Quinceanera. That disappointment is normal and should be expected. However, if their distress or sadness lasts longer than you think it should, keep an eye on them. During COVID-19, certain teens – such as those struggling with pre-existing depression or anxiety – are more vulnerable to the negative impact of social isolation. They may need to receive a clinical assessment to determine whether they need outpatient therapy, an intensive outpatient program (IOP), or partial hospitalization program (PHP) designed for adolescents.